Let’s Talk Food: America’s best new restaurants

Bon Appetit has named America’s Best New Restaurants for 2018 and No. 1 is a 22-seat restaurant in Oklahoma City. Writer Andrew Knowlton spent over three months trekking to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, and then to smaller states like South Carolina and Oregon, but he says in 20 years of doing this featured article, Oklahoma City had never “popped up on my radar. And the chefs? Never heard of them.”

Nonesuch has a 10-course tasting menu for around $75 and chefs Colin Stringer, Jeremy Wolfe and Paul Wang are all under 30 years old and don’t have much formal professional culinary training. Stringer did not do well in college and ended up washing dishes and frying hash browns at Waffle House. Wolfe also got his start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher when his buddy quit. Wang was born in Hong Kong, was raised in Seoul and Southern California, and his first job was wearing a bear costume at John’s Incredible Pizza Company, a Chuck E. Cheese knockoff.

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Nonesuch has no marketing and has only 5,000 Instagram followers but their start may be one of luck. Stringer and Wolfe and Andon Whitehorn ran a pop-up called Nani in a 100-year-old “creaky” Victorian house in Oklahoma City. Nani became a local hit, selling out months in advance — until the health department shut them down for operating without a license.

One of the early patrons, Todd Woodruff, a local restaurateur who owned Waffle Champion (waffles wrapped around chicken tenders, crispy leeks and Tabasco honey) fell for the “gutsy cooking at Nani and the DIY of the venture.” Nonesuch became a reality in OKC’s midtown district on Oct. 4, 2017.

Using only local ingredients — which in itself is interesting because Oklahoma is land-locked — the protein, piece of fruit or dairy product on the plate are all from Oklahoma.

No. 2 is Maydan in Washington, D.C., with an open fire pit. In many Middle Eastern countries, maydan is a central public meeting place. Co-executive chefs, Chris Morgoan and Gerald Addison do not cook on a stove or range. Everything is barbecued or grilled on the open pit.

No. 3 is a Thai restaurant. Ugly Baby in Brooklyn is owned by Sirichai Sreparplarn, who will not tone down the use of chilies and his tiny restaurant is packed with diners “sweating and crying (literally) from the profusion of chilies found in each dish.” Sreparplarn believes his food is like a drug, “It’s painful, but you want more, more, more.”

No. 4 is Freedman’s in Los Angeles, owned by siblings Jonah and Amanda Freedman. They consider themselves the black sheep of Jewish delis as their latkes are done in a waffle iron, their brisket is Jewish/Texan, they sell liquor and they do not sell by the pound. Their pickles, sauerkraut, pumpernickel bread, brisket and corned beef are all made in house.

No. 5 is Nyum Bai in Oakland, Calif., with Cambodian refugee Nite Yun making the dishes of her childhood. Nite was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her parents fled the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970’s. She came to America when she was 2 years old so she had never lived in Cambodia, but grew up eating the foods of that country.

No. 6 is Nimblefish of Portland, Ore., with Chef Cody Auger, who finds working behind the counter, making sushi, his “moment of zen.”

No. 7 is Che Fico of San Francisco, with servers who know the menu front to back, cooks mastering the art of wood-burning oven cooking, and wonderful Italian food, all under the supervision of Chef David Nayfeld.

Yume Ga Arukara in Cambridge, Mass., is No. 8. Hidden in a college food court, Chef Tsuyoshi Nishioka prepares some of the best udon in the country. There is only one dish, cold niku (beef) udon. Chef Tsuyoshi purchased a $35,000 machine from Japan to make the udon noodles, uses Australian udon flour, Japanese sea salt and makes the dish similar to the famous Setouchi Saimen of Osaka. He serves the few lucky ones that get to sit on his counter.

Drifters Wife in Portland, Maine, is No. 9. It started as a natural wine shop as there were none in the area. They decided they needed to get customers into the shop so they moved the wine racks to the back after being open for nine months and opened an eight-seat counter, a few tables, and a tiny kitchen with two induction burners, one electric stove and a lowboy refrigerator.

No. 10 is Call in Denver, Colo., where you can snack all day. Chef Duncan Holmes changes the bread selection daily and uses them for a rotating selection of sandwiches.

Be warned that lunches could take hours as you snack on small dishes during the course of the meal and it is quite common to come into Call at 10 a.m. and not leave till 2 p.m.

I hope in the new year you will be able to try one of these restaurants. A lot of them sound like fun, with interesting food.

Here is a recipe from Maydan, an easy slaw.

Lemony Cabbage with Mint

Serves 8

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup dried mint

1 medium head cabbage (1-½ pounds), halved and very thinly slices

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more

Combine lemon juice and mint in a large bowl. Add cabbage and 2 teaspoons salt. Toss cabbage with your hands for a few minutes, squeezing to help soften (the lemon juice and salt will continue to tenderize it as it sits). Add 1/4 cup oil and toss again to coat. Cover and chill at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

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To serve, taste and season with more salt and drizzle with oil.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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